- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

Last fall, star distance runner Dathan Ritzenhein toured the New York City Marathon in the lead car. This year, he will be making the race his debut marathon.

New York Road Runners have called a news conference in Denver on Thursday, at which time it is expected Ritzenhein will announce his first foray into the marathon distance.

Ritzenhein was unavailable for comment. He was in the Netherlands to compete in the 10,000 meters at today’s Fanny Blankers-Koen Games (IAAF Grand Prix) in Hengelo.

A call to Ritzenhein’s agent, Peter Stubbs, was not returned.

The announcement should come as no surprise to astute track observers.

Between the 2004 Olympic Trials in July and the Athens Olympics in September, Ritzenhein left the University of Colorado and turned pro, hiring Stubbs and signing a five-year contract with Nike though he had two full years of NCAA eligibility remaining. Also foretelling was his hiring of former marathoner Brad Hudson as his coach and former marathon great Alberto Salazar as a guide.

As early as December 2004, Ritzenhein, then 21, stated in a MensRacing.com interview: “I do think the marathon will be my best event … actually, I know it will. I’ve had some lab testing done and the signs all point toward that. So I don’t want to wait until I’m 30; I want to be sure I’m in my prime when I run it so I can do something special. It’s true that there are things I haven’t done yet on the track that I’d like to do, but I think it’s possible to do more than dabble in the marathon while pursuing those things.”

An article in the March 21, 2005 issue of Sports Illustrated, titled “Ready to Take on the World” and written by Tim Layden, said it all: “His new coach is former marathoner Brad Hudson, who has gradually introduced strength-building short hill sprints and long intervals (one session: 3,000 meters at a 68-second 400-meter pace, 2,000 meters at a 66-second pace, 1,000 meters at a 64-second pace, twice). Their long-term plan is obvious: to move Ritzenhein up to the marathon, possibly as soon as autumn 2006.”

Ritzenhein first gained national attention when he broke 9:00 for two miles as a sophomore at Rockford High School in Michigan. He went on to earn two Foot Locker (high school) Cross Country titles while outrunning other high school prodigies Alan Webb and Ryan Hall and finished third at the 2001 IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships, becoming the first American to medal in that race in nearly two decades.

As a freshman at Colorado in the fall of 2001, he contributed a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships to help Colorado to the team title. Since then, Ritzenhein has experienced tremendous performances, such as the 2003 NCAA cross country title, as well as three devastating stress fractures.

He barely completed 10,000 meters at the Olympic Trials in 2004 with a major stress fracture in his foot, settling for an excruciating 22nd-place finish. He ran injured because he was one of the few in the race with an Olympic “A” qualifier, and it paid off when he received the call to Athens. Not quite fit yet, Ritzenhein dropped out halfway through the Olympic race.

Many fans believe Ritzenhein, 23, has the potential to run a sub-27-minute 10,000 meters. He lost a thriller to Webb at the Cardinal Invitational four weeks ago in Palo Alto, Calif., with a personal best 27:35.65, placing him in the top 10 all-time fastest Americans over the distance.

But will his true potential be reached in the marathon, as U.S. 10,000-meter record holder and 2004 Olympic marathon silver-medalist Meb Keflezighi has discovered? The constant stress fractures may play a hindering role in his marathon career, but Ritzenhein does not appear concerned.

The Sports Illustrated article went on to say: “Ritzenhein has serious goals: break the American records for 10,000 meters and the marathon.” And the New York Road Runners gave Ritzenhein and his coach’s Boulder Performance Training Group a shot in the arm in February when they announced Boulder would be one of four USA Distance Project camps that will divvy up a $240,000 grant from the NYRR.

We’ll see what the young Ritzenhein can do in New York City on Nov. 5.

On TV — The Nike Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., will be shown live today on ESPN2 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Too late — The 2006 Chicago Marathon reached its 40,000-participant cap last week and has officially closed registration sooner than ever, nearly five months in advance of the Oct. 22 race. Marathon officials said a limited number of entries are still available to runners through the 60 charities affiliated with the marathon.

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